For a number of years, across the UK, MFL teachers have tried a number of strategies to encourage students to take a language course at GCSE.
Trips abroad are a great opportunity to practise language skills and get students interested in learning a foreign language. Equally, trips abroad are an eye-opener into other cultures. Students might have been to the country, but there is no guarantee that they have mixed with the locals or explored the area outside the holiday resort.
Exchanges will offer students the unique experience of living with families and develop future pen pal relationships, which will lead to further enrichment of their language skills.
Around Christmas time, most towns and cities hold a European market with a wide range of stalls, which sell anything from food and cakes to sweets and crafts from many different countries. My students have to prepare a questionnaire in the target language, which they will conduct when they visit the European market. There are also a number of items from other cultures which they research and have to look for during their visit. It doesn’t compare to exploring the country, but students always enjoy using their language skills in a real situation, whether they are purchasing some foreign food or interviewing the stall attendant in their mother tongue.
As a reward at the end of every half term, students complete a piece of work of their choice on a Spanish / French speaking country or a Spanish / French speaking personality. Winners from each class are invited to have either a tapas lunch or a French breakfast with the MFL department. Students will ask for food in Spanish or French and will express their opinions about what they try in the target language as well.
Languages fun clubs are usually very popular, especially when students get the chance to work with iPADS, iPODS, videos, songs, games etc.
Football is always a good discussion topic with any classes. Every year we invite Spanish and French footballers who play for the local football team. There is a great atmosphere in the school on the day and the build up to the event is phenomenal. Any football club will donate badges, posters and a few tickets free of charge, which will motivate children to do some follow-up work once the guests have been to school. The best pieces of work win tickets, but other good examples are published on the school website.
Students are very competitive, and if the competition is against the senior teachers they love it. A quiz during assembly with students versus senior teachers always goes down well and helps to raise the profile of languages in school.
Local business links are also something that we have exploited quite successfully. Students will have the experience of talking to people from local businesses, discovering how languages have helped them to enhance their deals and increaser profits, as well as enquiring about career opportunities.
Finally, past students, who are studying at university or are in employment, can be a great resource to convince some of our more reluctant language-learners to be open-minded and opt for a language course at GCSE.